Card: Multiple Choice | Art: Campbell White
When building a Commander deck, one of the first questions you will need to ask yourself is “what commander should I play?” It is going to be the first thing everyone sees in your deck. This will be a first impression of what is to come from your gameplay, and of course, it will define how you build your deck.
Today, let's jump into the world of choosing your Commander and what that process looks like. I suggest you tackle these sections as you see fit, see what resonates with you, and what is most important to you.
Before getting into the factors to consider when choosing a commander, here are some useful resources to keep in mind. Firstly, you can get a full list of all commanders on Scryfall f:edh is:commander.
Another resource to consider is EDHREC. For those not familiar, this site amalgamates commanders and the cards in their respective decks. It is a great place to see what other players are running in their decks.
If you are a player that emphasizes high power and cEDH. Consider the cEDH decklist database. This is an up-to-date repository of cEDH decks, their decklists, and in many cases Discord servers dedicated to that deck. Discord is a great way to get in touch with other players, and learn from their experience with the deck.
If you like high power but are on a budget also check out cEDH Budget Brews Club. These folks try to brew to a cEDH level while staying between $500-$1000. While this is a very liberal definition of “budget” it is aiming to be budget in the context of cEDH where decks often exceed several thousand dollars. This community has a lot of great finds for brewers who have a cEDH mentality but are not in the position to spend multiple thousands on a deck.
Lastly, check out your favorite deck builder website. Look around for your commander and compare your ideas to what other people are playing. Look out for decklists with primers. This will help inform you about how the deck wins, and what works well and what didn't. Here at Bolt the Bird, we have several primers for some popular, fun, and budget commanders in our Commander section.
Choose Your Colors
Color typically draws people to commanders. Whether you already enjoy the color combination, or you are looking to try something new, color plays a role. 1,604 things can be your commander, and that's before we get into add-ons like partners and backgrounds (Note: these numbers are subject to change as more cards are added to the EDH cardpool). As you add colors to your deck, the commander options tend to dwindle. If you have an idea of your colors, then you can cut down the workload quite a bit.
Besides the colors themselves, your mana base might also limit your commander options. Five-color decks will need to focus more on their mana than a one-color deck. If you intend on adding more colors, consider what multicolored lands you have access to. Lands can get expensive once you start adding dual lands and fetch lands to the mix. You can find more info on Commander mana bases here!
Choose Your Archetype
This is typically the first place people come to when looking for a new commander. They want to play a particular strategy. Depending on your play style, some commanders will immediately jump out at you, while at other times you will need to do a bit more searching.
The cEDH community breaks down its decks into proactive, adaptive, and disruptive. This provides some good high-level looks at what the deck is about. Proactive decks are fast and actively cause trouble at the table. Disruptive decks aim to prevent your opponent from doing their thing. Adaptive decks try to be flexible. They can be the aggressor when they need to be, but can also control the game when and if it is needed.
Some archetypes have some great options when it comes to their commander. For example, spell-slinger strategies have loads of options, from Kalamax, the Stormsire, Birgi, God of Storytelling, and Balmor, Battlemage Captain. There is always going to be a demand for spell-slinger commanders. All of these are unique takes on the same basic idea and cast lots of spells.
Some archetypes have various commanders, but there is a general concession on a “best” option. Vampire tribal comes to mind. Edgar Markov is widely regarded as the best in class here. That is not to say you cannot make a Vampire deck around a different commander, however, due to how popular Markov is you might need to do some digging to find resources that cater to what you need. Additionally, you might want to ensure your deck does something unique to let it stand out from the status quo.
Some commanders are simply the only option for their deck. For example, food token decks are relegated to mostly Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar, and Gyome, Master Chef. Outside these options, you would need to get very creative to find a commander.
Choose Your Budget
A big factor for many folks is the budget. Here there are two factors to consider. The price of the commander, and the price of the overall deck.
Looking at the commander itself. Some are simply more expensive than others. Some are expensive simply by rarity, such as Lady Zhurong, Warrior Queen. This card has no business being this expensive. On the other hand, The Ur-Dragon is a pricey, popular, and powerful commander. A budget alternative might be something like Scion of the Ur-Dragon, or even the jumbo oversized card included in the precon. Some commanders simply do not have a budget alternative. In this case, you might have no choice but to bite the bullet and buy it. Sakashima of a Thousand Faces comes to mind here.
On the other end of the spectrum, you need to think about the 99. Some decks are going to require some compromise to build on a budget. Lands-matter decks are often hard to build on a budget, as you cannot skimp on the mana base. Decks like Titania, Protector of Argoth really like fetch lands, inflating the overall cost of the deck. Combo decks might also struggle to be built on a budget if you are hoping to rely on tutors. Many of the best tutors in the game command a high price. Conversely, decks that can turn bad cards into good ones such as Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, or Anje Falkenrath make great options for budget-conscious brewers.
Choose Your Enemies
Your local game store, playgroup, or meta might dictate the kind of commander you choose. In tight-knit groups, you likely know what everyone plays, how they play, and how to react. If the buddy you play with every weekend has an Angus Mackenzie turbo-fog deck, then you might be leaning away from a creature-based strategy.
Besides picking commanders that play well against your opponent, you might want to consider filling a niche that is not offered at your table. Maybe no one is playing reanimator, you could try to fill that gap and see how the table reacts to a new strategy.
If your meta is a little more diverse, for example, you have a large group like an LGS, you might want to consider a commander that is more of a catch-all. At an LGS, you don't know what you might face. If you value consistency, you might want to brew something that can keep up with a diverse meta of more tuned decks.
Choose Your Power Level
There is no perfect measure of power level for a deck. Everyone measures it differently. Even if we all cannot agree on one system to measure power, at least being conscious of various power levels is essential.
I believe it is critical to consider your commander's floor and ceiling. The power floor is the bare minimum power the card on its own has, while the power ceiling is the absolute peak for the commander.
A low-power floor and a low-power ceiling is a deck that is at its core quite weak and there is little that can be done to make it shine as a commander. This is where many cards that are not designed for the Commander format exist. A card like Morinfen has a low floor and a low ceiling. It is weak on its own, and even if you built a superb deck around Morinfen it is still bad commander no matter how hard you try.
A commander with a low-power floor and a high-power ceiling might be Anje Falkenrath. She is quite weak on her own. Essentially, she is a glorified rummager. On the other hand, if you devote time and prep into Anje she is viable even in cEDH! She has some very potent combos. This deck requires a little work to be good. You cannot just throw a bunch of Rakdos cards together and call it a day. Anje needs the build-around to be good.
Some commanders have a high power floor, but a low ceiling. That is to say, the commander is inherently powerful, but you can't do much to make it over-the-top powerful. I find a lot of Voltron decks fall into this category. For example, Rafiq of the Many is no doubt powerful. You can build him incredibly strong and have a deck that could kill anyone in one swing. But at the end of the day, you still need to hit all of your opponents at least once, throughout probably three to four turns. This stands in contrast to a stax deck that could dominate a game incredibly quickly and denies you your resources, or a combo deck that simply kills everyone at once. This category is also where many “best in their class” commanders live. That is to say, a commander that does a gimmick well. Cards like Atraxa, Praetor's Voice come to mind here. She is powerful for sure, however, she is ultimately a gimmick for infect and planeswalker decks. These commanders are strong on their own within the confines of their gimmick.
Lastly, we have commanders with a high floor and a high ceiling. These cards are inherently strong on their own but then are taken to new heights when you build around them. In casual games, Narset, Enlightened Master often fit this motif. A “weak” Narset deck just casts a couple of free spells every turn, a tuned Narset deck will win the game the first turn she is played. Many CEDH commanders also fit in this category, such as K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth, or Korvold, Fae-Cursed King. Just simply playing these cards is enough to begin turning the tide of the game. These are “kill on sight” commanders. These commanders are solid even with just a pile of vaguely on-theme cards, but then have the potential to be egregious in a tuned deck.
The notion of ceiling and floors is a useful tool when choosing your commander. In particular, if you enjoy brewing decks and gradually upgrading them over time, you might enjoy a commander with a low floor and a high ceiling. This will give you a lot of wiggle room to explore with your deck. It will also give you ample room to tune up or down depending on your meta. Meanwhile, the high floor and high ceiling are much harder to tune down and may be outright impossible to play at lower power tables without the other players ganging up on you.
With all that said, I hope you now have some insight into picking your next commander. However, if after all this you still can't choose, you could always go to EDHREC and click the random commander button and go from there. Regardless of how you choose, I hope you have fun building your next deck. What factors do you consider when picking a commander?
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